Events - they are a lot of work, the financial return is often a (not so good) surprise or isn’t there at all. There are many misconceptions about what goes into making an event successful. In this episode, Amy Milne, founder of Beyond Fundraising, shares step-by-step how to ensure your next event does more than just make money so you can advance your long-term fundraising strategy.
why host an event anyways?
Start with why! Why are you hosting an event? What outcomes do you want? Instead of scrapping events altogether, Amy suggests restructuring the way you plan your event so that it fulfills your objectives and makes sense to your organization.
Try thinking of your event as a product of your organization. How does it fit your organizational brand? How do your guests relate to it? The key is to find your organization’s heartbeat or thumbprint. What makes your organization unique?
Creating an experience that fits your organization and what it stands for, as well as thinking about what resonates with your guests, will ensure that your event will bring money now AND in the long-term.
the key ingredients for a buzz-worthy event
Amy’s first step is to evaluate who your primary audience is. If your organization serves children, then your event should in some way conjure the image or feeling of kids. Think about a moment that is unique to children. For example, Amy references the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario (also known as POGO) which specifically serves children with cancer. Spending lots of time in the hospital, these kids are typically in their pajamas.
The next step is to think of different events that relate to this moment. POGO encouraged third-party events where supporters hosted their own pajama party or pancake party (sometimes both if they wished!). POGO also hosts an adult-only cocktail party where guests were asked to show up in their pajamas.
Now you have two unique events that are authentic to your organization AND resonate with your audiences.
arm your volunteers with information
Having a strong volunteer base is another key ingredient to a successful event. Before your event, it is important to directly ask your event participants or volunteers what they want in an event and see how we can meet those needs while still remaining true to our objectives. Involve them in the journey of planning and suddenly, it’s no longer just an event they’re helping support, but an event they can “own” too.
We also need to arm them with information about the cause and teach them how they can fundraise. Fundraising is tough and isn’t something that everyone feels confident doing. With everything online, you can also send them PowerPoint decks or host webinars to teach them any key or new information. Be sure to call and email them about where they may need extra support or to give them an extra boost of encouragement.
Not sure where to start? Amy suggests first making sure that they understand what the event is and what they’re selling. Like we mentioned earlier, your event is a product of your organization, so your participants need to understand why they, and other potential donors, should invest in it.
If we take our time now and they're equipped to do their job, they’ll need us less and they’ll raise more money. This also gives a reminder as to why they are involved with the organization in the first place which is an important place to start.
The best way for them to sell is for them to share their own experiences with the cause and why they themselves are involved with the organization. This is why events are so important, they help people experience the cause and have a “laugh, cry, cheer” moment.
Also, be sure to provide them with bite-sized information over time. Giving anyone stacks of binders full of information they need to know can be overwhelming for anyone, so it’s important to provide that same information but in a way that is less intimidating and easier to pick up. It’s easy to fall into all the complexities of your cause, so keep it simple!
keeping your volunteers on track
Let’s face it, we all have trouble getting people to participant in training because everyone is busy and no one enjoys feeling like they are getting extra work piled on top of them.
Amy combats this by being clear on what their roles are and what job or tasks that entails, right from the beginning. From a management perspective, we also need to give them enough breathing room so that they can do their jobs. This means asking them directly how they work best, how often they would like to check in with you and where is the best place to do so. Offering flexibility will result in better results in a way that works best for you and your participants.
It’s also okay to raise concerns if they may not be in the right role. Being firm and transparent about what the job entails makes it easier to tell whether or not someone is a good fit, will enjoy the work and will be successful in that role. And when this happens, you can ensure that your event will also be successful too.
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The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano